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Organizing the conference Week of Innovative Regions Europe (WIRE IV) 2013

Final Report Summary - WIRE 2013 (Organizing the conference Week of Innovative Regions Europe (WIRE IV) 2013)

Executive Summary:
The Week of Innovative Regions Europe (WIRE) conference was held in Cork, Ireland during Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union in 2013. It aimed to contribute substantially to research, innovation and regional policy development and learning and to better position regional actors to enhance policy formation for effective regional development, while building on the outcomes of previous conferences in this WIRE series.
Project Context and Objectives:
The Week of Innovative Regions in Europe (WIRE) Conference series, financed under the FP7 Capacities Research Potential work programme, is now recognised as a key element in facilitation of the European regional agenda. The conferences have generally succeeded in bringing together regional, national and European stakeholders including public organisations, policymakers, research communities and enterprises to address, develop and progress key topics of interest to the community.

The Week of Innovative Regions Europe IV (WIRE IV) focussed on regional aspects relevant to the final stages of the Horizon 2020 design and legislative process and was positioned primarily as an implementation focussed activity in the context of the Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 and Europe 2020.

It aimed to address topics such as:
o Strengthening research, technological development and innovation;
o Enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
o Promoting employment and supporting labour mobility;
o Investing in education, skills and lifelong learning;
o Enhancing institutional capacity and an efficient public administration;

With the objective of specifically addressing the strengthening of regional innovation ecosystems in areas of research, technological development and innovation, the conference included sessions on:
- Enhancing research and innovation infrastructure and capacities;
- Promoting business R&I investment and public service application;
- Clusters and open innovation through smart specialisation;
- The support cycle from technology transfer to advanced manufacturing.

The conference aimed to identify what role (if any) there could be for regions in the Horizon 2020 programme, challenges, niche opportunities to add value, how to exploit opportunities, and synergies with ERDF notably on Smart Specialisation Strategies (and Key Enabling Technologies) as well as providing a platform to benchmark, network and establish future partnerships.
Project Results:
Opened by Commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science and Sean Sherlock TD Minister of State for Research and Innovation, the conference gathered 400 delegates from 20 countries and 47 speakers.

Building on the contributions of the previous conferences, WIRE2013 covered three broad themes: Regions and Competitive Advantage; Regional Policy in an International Context and Putting Strategies to Work.

Regions and Competitive Advantage addressed the place-based mobilisation of talent by matching Research & Innovation capabilities with business needs and capacities. It also considered Horizon 2020 and Smart Specialisation, and closing the innovation divide in Europe.

Regional Policy in an International Context focused on the selection of a few priorities on the basis of international specialisation and integration on international value chains and the role of cities' and regions' solutions to societal challenges of global significance identified in Horizon 2020.

Putting Strategies to Work considered issues relating to critical mass and the need to provide arenas for cross-cutting links between sectors which drive specialised technological diversification. It also examined the role of Collaborative Leadership where efficient innovation systems operate as a collective endeavour based on partnership between private and public entities and synergies between funding instruments from the EU, national and regional policies.

Some key findings included:

Encouraging Business Research and Innovation Investment: In order to stimulate business research and innovation investment in Europe there is a need to combine the following key elements: (i) Learn from good practice and successful business case studies that exhibit entrepreneurial spirit and innovation leadership (e.g. the Kerry Group invests 4% of revenue in research and innovation and has moved from being a regionally based dairy cooperative to a global leader in food ingredients); (ii) Nurture talented young people through world-class education systems and partnership with industry; (iii) Customise national policies involving extensive stakeholder engagement by national development agencies; (iv) Leverage available EU instruments and initiatives.

The conference highlighted the potential for smart specialisation to facilitate the development and advancement of regional industry clusters with cluster-based strategies identified as a mechanism for a region to reinvent itself to drive innovation-based industrial development, often following periods of economic and social change - using examples such as the Aviation Valley cluster in Poland and the North Rhine Westphalia cluster in Germany.

Linking with research and innovation infrastructure and capacities: For the purpose of regional planning, research Infrastructures are centres of excellence, focal points for innovation, high socio-economic impact, platforms for the development of human potential; analysis of impact of research infrastructures carried out showed great impact on local economies. World class infrastructures are essential for attracting top class scientists and then industry. Benefits that can accrue to the region include presence of high-profile PhDs; research infrastructure available to industry; new companies created and spin-offs; and ability to attract domestic and foreign investment. Furthermore, companies working with research infrastructures are able to innovate and to develop new business as new markets are created. Leveraging these benefits for the region requires a regional innovation strategy that is developed through consensus among key stakeholders. The conference was presented with case studies where research infrastructures and capacities are incorporated into regional planning.

Linking Horizon 2020 and Smart Specialisation: Across Europe research and innovation stakeholder are engaged in two parallel actions: (i) to form transnational consortia to participate in Horizon 2020; and (ii) to develop and implement regional and national research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation. The conference proposed that regions can use the context of Horizon 2020 to align and develop regional priorities. For example, the smart specialisation strategy of a region can also include societal and industrial leadership challenges.

Balancing Funding and Policy: The conference heard that State aid is not always a ‘good thing’. For companies it can reduce flexibility, speed and focus. The objective should be to optimise state aid to accelerate innovation and growth. In this context, research and innovation projects must be aligned to commercial strategy rather than state aid conditions and timelines. However, in some circumstances state aid can accelerate innovation and growth. The availability of a diverse set of funding instruments is critical for large-scale pilot lines and demonstration projects. From a policy and resourcing perspective, this requires funding instruments made available by the European Investment Bank, Structural funds, and Horizon 2020 to be blended. Processes, supports and policies should be aligned to support innovation projects and enterprises through the Valley of Death phase. It is vital that the different funds are used properly with harmonised rules.

The conference considered key RIS3 implementation recommendations from DG Regional and Urban Policy, supported by case studies illustrating some of the implementation principles. Key messages on the implementation of smart specialisation included:
(i) Implementation of RIS3 should extend beyond legal obligations and involves prioritised and specific thematic objectives for the region.
(ii) The RIS3 implementation framework should combine thematic areas that have been prioritised and specified for the region with appropriate cross-cutting actions.
(iii) The RIS3 implementation framework should facilitate coordination between priorities, programmes and funding sources (EU, national and regional). For example, the RIS3 implementation framework should be aligned with the Horizon 2020 implementation schedule. Similarly there should be logical linkages with the ERDF Operational Programmes.
(iv) Consistency of RIS3 regional strategies with national operational programmes should be set out in partnership agreements. There should also be similar consistency at macro-regional level with suitable agencies appointed to implement joint RIS3 frameworks.

Potential Impact:
The conference aimed at giving an appropriate follow up to the WIRE III conference organised by the Polish Presidency. It achieved this by mobilising relevant regional stakeholders and it has led to the next WIRE conference which will take place in June 2014.

The event contributed to the discussion on the improved interaction of the different systems oriented towards knowledge-based competitiveness; especially cluster policy and regional development policy for cluster initiatives.

Following the conference the content of the conference website was modified to provide a publicly available sustainable electronic information source, including:
- Conference information;
- Conference proceedings.

List of Websites:

Dr Imelda Lambkin